XLIV. This was followed by a second atrocity, the result of brutal lust, which occurred in the City and led to consequences no less tragic than the outrage and death of Lucretia, which had brought about the expulsion of the royal family. Not only was the end of the decemvirs the same as that of the kings, but the cause of their losing their power was the same in each case. Ap. Claudius had conceived a guilty passion for a girl of plebeian birth. The girl's father, L. Verginius, held a high rank in the army on Algidus; he was a man of exemplary character both at home and in the field. His wife had been brought up on equally high principles, and their children were being brought up in the same way.
He had betrothed his daughter toL. Icilius, who had been tribune, an active and energetic man whose courage had been proved in his battles for the plebs. This girl, now in the bloom of her youth and beauty, excited Appius' passions, and he tried to prevail on her by presents and promises. When he found that her virtue was proof against all temptation, he had recourse to unscrupulous and brutal violence. He commissioned a client, M. Claudius, to claim the girl as his slave, and to bar any claim on the part of her friends to retain possession of her till the case was tried, as he thought that the father's absence afforded a good opportunity for this illegal action. As the girl was going to her school in the Forum--the grammar schools were held in booths there--the decemvir's pander laid his hand upon her, declaring that she was the daughter of a slave of his, and a slave herself. He then ordered her to follow him, and threatened, if she hesitated, to carry her off by force.
While the girl was stupefied with terror, her maid's shrieks, invoking `the protection of the Quirites,' drew a crowd together. The names of her father Verginius and her betrothed lover, Icilius, were held in universal respect. Regard for them brought their friends, feelings of indignation brought the crowd to the maiden's support. She was now safe from violence; the man who claimed her said that he was proceeding according to law, not by violence, there was no need for any excited gathering. He cited the girl into court.
Her supporters advised her to follow him; they came before the tribunal of Appius. The claimant rehearsed a story already perfectly familiar to the judge as he was the author of the plot, how the girl had been born in his house, stolen from there, transferred to the house of Verginius and fathered on him; these allegations would be supported by definite evidence, and he would prove them to the satisfaction of Verginius himself, who was really most concerned, as an injury had been done to him. Meanwhile, he urged, it was only right that a slave girl should follow her master. The girl's advocates contended that Verginius was absent on the service of the State, he would be present in two days' time if information were sent to him, and it was contrary to equity that in his absence he should incur risk with regard to his children. They demanded that he should adjourn the whole of the proceedings till the father's arrival, and in accordance with the law which he himself had enacted, grant the custody of the girl to those who asserted her freedom, and not suffer a maiden of ripe age to incur danger to her reputation before her liberty was imperilled.
XLV. Before giving judgment, Appius showed how liberty was upheld by that very law to which the friends of Verginia had appealed in support of their demand. But, he went on to say, it guaranteed liberty only so far as its provisions were strictly adhered to as regarded both persons and cases. For where personal freedom is the matter of claim, that provision holds good, because any one can lawfully plead, but in the case of one who is still in her father's power, there is none but her father to whom her master need renounce possession. His decision, therefore, was that the father should be summoned, and in the meanwhile the man who claimed her should not forego his right to take the girl and give security to produce her on the arrival of her reputed father.
The injustice of this sentence called forth many murmurs, but no one ventured on open protest, until P. Numitorius, the girl's grandfather, and Icilius, her betrothed, appeared on the scene. The intervention of Icilius seemed to offer the best chance of thwarting Appius, and the crowd made way for him. The lictor said that judgment had been given, and as Icilius continued loudly protesting he attempted to remove him. Such rank injustice would have fired even a gentle temper. He exclaimed:
`I am, at your orders, Appius, to be removed at the point of the sword, that you may stifle all comment on what you want to keep concealed. I am going to marry this maiden, and I am determined to have a chaste wife. Summon all the lictors of all your colleagues, give orders for the axes and rods to be in readiness--the betrothed of Icilius shall not remain outside her father's house. Even if you have deprived us of the two bulwarks of our liberty--the aid of our tribunes and the right of appeal to the Roman plebs--that has given you no right to our wives and children, the victims of your lust. Vent your cruelty upon our backs and necks; let female honour at least be safe. If violence is offered to this girl, I shall invoke the aid of the Quirites here for my betrothed, Verginius that of the soldiers for his only daughter. We shall all invoke the aid of gods and men, and you shall not carry out that judgment except at the cost of our lives. Reflect, Appius, I demand of you, whither you are going! When Verginius has come, he must decide what action to take about his daughter; if he submits to this man's claim, he must look out another husband for her. Meantime I will vindicate her liberty at the price of my life, sooner than sacrifice my honour.'
XLVI. The people were excited and a conflict appeared imminent. The lictors had closed round Icilius, but matters had not got beyond threats on both sides when Appius declared that it was not the defence of Verginia that was Icilius' main object; a restless intriguer, even yet breathing the spirit of the tribuneship, was looking out for a chance of creating sedition. He would not, however, afford him material for it that day, but that he might allow that it was not to his insolence that he was making a concession, but to the absent Verginius, to the name of father, and to liberty, he would not adjudicate on that day, or issue any decree. He would ask M. Claudius to forego his right, and allow the girl to be in the custody of her friends till the morrow. If the father did not then appear, he warned Icilius and men of his stamp that neither as legislator would he be disloyal to his own law, nor as decemvir would he lack firmness to execute it. He certainly would not call upon the lictors of his colleagues to repress the ringleaders of sedition, he should be content with his own.
The time for perpetrating this illegality was thus postponed, and after the girl's supporters had withdrawn, it was decided as the very first thing to be done that the brother of Icilius and one of Numitor's sons, both active youths, should make their way straight to the gate and summon Verginius from the camp with all possible speed. They knew that the girl's safety turned upon her protector against lawlessness being present in time. They started on their mission, and riding at full speed brought the news to the father. While the claimant of the girl was pressing Icilius to enter his plea and name his sureties, and Icilius kept asserting that this very thing was being arranged, purposely spinning out the time to allow of his messengers getting first to the camp, the crowd everywhere held up their hands to show that every one of them was ready to be security for him. With tears in his eyes, he said, `It is most kind of you. To-morrow I may need your help, now I have sufficient securities.' So Verginia was bailed on the security of her relatives.
Appius remained for some time on the bench, to avoid the appearance of having taken his seat for that one case only. When he found that owing to the universal interest in this one case no other suitors appeared, he withdrew to his home and wrote to his colleagues in camp not to grants leave of absence to Verginius, and actually to keep him under arrest. This wicked advice came too late, as it deserved to do; Verginius had already obtained leave, and started in the first watch. The letter ordering his detention was delivered the next morning, and was therefore useless.
XLVII. In the City, the citizens were standing in the Forum in the early dawn, on the tiptoe of expectation. Verginius, in mourning garb, brought his daughter, similarly attired, and accompanied by a number of matrons, into the Forum. An immense body of sympathisers stood round him. He went amongst the people, took them by the hand and appealed to them to help him, not out of compassion only but because they owed it to him; he was at the front day by day, in defence of their children and their wives; of no man could they recount more numerous deeds of endurance and of daring than of him. What good was it all, he asked, if while the City was safe, their children were exposed to what would be their worst fate if it were actually captured? Men gathered round him, whilst he spoke as though he were addressing the Assembly (contionabundus circumibat). Icilius followed in the same strain. The women who accompanied him made a profounder impression by their silent weeping than any words could have made.
Unmoved by all this--it was really madness rather than love that had clouded his judgment--Appius mounted the tribunal. The claimant began by a brief protest against the proceedings of the previous day; judgment, he said, had not been given owing to the partiality of the judge. But before he could proceed with his claim or any opportunity was given to Verginius of replying, Appius intervened. It is possible that the ancient writers may have correctly stated some ground which he alleged for his decision, but I do not find one anywhere that would justify such an iniquitous decision. The one thing which can be propounded as being generally admitted is the judgment itself. His decision was that the girl was a slave.
At first all were stupefied with amazement at this atrocity, and for a few moments there was a dead silence. Then, as M. Claudius approached the matrons standing round the girl, to seize her amidst their outcries and tears, Verginius, pointing with outstretched arm to Appius, cried, `It is to Icilius and not to you, Appius, that I have betrothed my daughter; I have brought her up for wedlock, not for outrage. Are you determined to satisfy your brutal lusts like cattle and wild beasts? Whether these people will put up with this, I know not, but I hope that those who possess arms will refuse to do so.' Whilst the man who claimed the maiden was being pushed back by the group of women and her supporters who stood round, the crier called for silence.
XLVIII. The decemvir, utterly abandoned to his passion, addressed the crowd and told them that he had ascertained not only through the insolent abuse of Icilius on the previous day and the violent behaviour of Verginius, which the Roman people could testify to, but mainly from certain definite information received, that all through the night meetings had been held in the City to organise a seditious movement. Forewarned of the likelihood of disturbances, he had come down into the Forum with an armed escort, not to injure peaceable citizens, but to uphold the authority of the government by putting down the disturbers of public tranquillity. `It will therefore,' he proceeded, `be better for you to keep quiet. Go, lictor, remove the crowd and clear a way for the master to take possession of his slave.' When, in a transport of rage, he had thundered out these words, the people fell back and left the deserted girl a prey to injustice.
Verginius, seeing no prospect of help anywhere, turned to the tribunal. `Pardon me, Appius, I pray you, if I have spoken disrespectfully to you, pardon a father's grief. Allow me to question the nurse here, in the maiden's presence, as to what are the real facts of the case, that if I have been falsely called her father, I may leave her with the greater resignation.'
Permission being granted, he took the girl and her nurse aside to the booths near the temple of Venus Cloacina, now known as the `New Booths,' and there, snatching up a butcher's knife, he plunged it into her breast, saying, `In this the only way in which I can, I vindicate, my child, thy freedom.' Then, looking towards the tribunal, `By this blood, Appius, I devote thy head to the infernal gods.' (tuumque caput sanguine hoc consecro)
Alarmed at the outcry which arose at this terrible deed, the decemvir ordered Verginius to be arrested. Brandishing the knife, he cleared the way before him, until, protected by a crowd of sympathisers, he reached the city gate. Icilius and Numitorius took up the lifeless body and showed it to the people; they deplored the villainy of Appius, the ill-starred beauty of the girl, the terrible compulsion under which the father had acted. The matrons, who followed with angry cries, asked, `Was this the condition on which they were to rear children, was this the reward of modesty and purity?' with other manifestations of that womanly grief, which, owing to their keener sensibility, is more demonstrative, and so expresses itself in more moving and pitiful fashion. The men, and especially Icilius, talked of nothing but the abolition of the tribunician power and the right of appeal and loudly expressed their indignation at the condition of public affairs.